Barone’s Famous Italian Restaurant, Valley Glen, California

The story about Barone’s Famous Italian Restaurant, still owned by the Monteleone family (since 1950), is actually a story of three restaurants. Two are now history, but the story has a happy ending.

 

photo by baronesfamousitalian.com

photo by baronesfamousitalian.com

 

The original Barone’s restaurant was opened in 1945 at Beverly Glen and Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks by Tony and Frank Arpaia, Jerry and Josephine Barone, and Joe Izzo. It quickly became popular so had to move into a larger building at 14151 Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks (where it remained until 2006). In 1950 more members of the extended family, Frank (Josephine’s brother) and Mary Monteleone joined in the business. According to Frank Monteleone‘s son Tom, who now runs the restaurant, the Dead End Kids would come in all the time to eat after a day’s work filming (Lucille Ball, John Wayne, and Jane Russell were also regulars). One day they asked why Barone’s didn’t serve pizza. The owners told them they didn’t know how to make pizza because they were from Buffalo. The Dead End Kids showed them how to make a good sauce and a New York style thin-crust, but the restaurant didn’t have mozzarella so they used Monterey Jack cheese. The Jack came in square blocks, so they made a rectangular pizza covered with square slices of jack cheese. It was the first rectangular Neapolitan style pizza in California and to this day the restaurant still makes the pizza the same way, with Monterey Jack cheese.

 

Barone's, Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks - photo by city-data.com

Barone’s, Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks – photo by city-data.com

 

The second restaurant involved in the story of Barone’s is a German restaurant, Hoppe’s Old Heidelberg, which opened in 1958 at 13726 Oxnard St. in Van Nuys (now Valley Glen). Old Heidelberg was decorated with modern stained glass windows to filter out the light, dark carved wood walls, deep red leather booths, and Teutonic bric-à-brac. The waitresses wore dirndls. After over 36 years of serving German specialties, it was purchased by award-winning Swiss chef Ueli Huegli, who came with experience from a long list of European and Southern California restaurants. He renamed it Matterhorn Chef (the third restaurant in our story) and added Swiss dishes to the menu.

 

Barone's dining room - photo by The Jab, 2013

Barone’s dining room – photo by The Jab, 2013

 

In 2006 the Matterhorn Chef closed. Barone’s moved out of the Ventura Blvd. location and into its space on Oxnard St. So when you go to Barone’s today you are actually in the original Hoppe’s Old Heidelberg, which thankfully has not changed much since 1958! Perhaps the German/Swiss decor was replaced with Italian paintings but the red booths, woodwork, and stained glass windows are all intact (the lighting is newer). I went once to the Barone’s location on Ventura Blvd before it moved and I admit that I like the “new” Old Heidelberg/Matterhorn Chef/Barone’s space better. Good news for Matterhorn Chef fans came in 2010 when Ueli Huegli opened a new restaurant in Valley Glen called Swiss Chef, with many of the famous dishes that were on the menu at Matterhorn Chef.

 

arty stained glass windows at Barone's - photo by The Jab, 2013

arty stained glass windows at Barone’s – photo by The Jab, 2013

 

The menu is long at Barone’s, with pizza, Italian specialties, and steaks. I had the “famous” New York pepper steak (USDA Choice grain-fed, aged 21-days), which was good as I recall. But you really should try the pizza because that is what they are famous for. Barone’s has long been famous for its old school entertainment, and the tradition continues every Friday and Saturday night after 8:30, when performers playing jazz, standards, and oldies get people of all ages in the bar cuttin’ a rug on the dance floor. It’s a lively scene I experienced back when I visited the old Sherman Oaks location and again in 2013 at the Valley Glen Barone’s.

 

scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High filmed at Old Heidelburg (now Barone's)

scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High filmed at Old Heidelburg (now Barone’s)

 

You may recall a funny scene in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (one of my top-ten favorite 80s films), where Mark “Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer) and Stacey Hamilton (Jennifer Jason Leigh) had a date, but Rat forgot to bring his wallet. That scene was filmed at Old Heidelberg (now Barone’s). You can clearly see the red booths and stained glass in the above still (I think this is the same room that I snapped a photo of but looking towards the front of the restaurant instead of the back). Too bad the high-backed leather chairs are gone today (though similar ones are still used at The Imperial House In San Diego and at the Sycamore Inn in Rancho Cucamonga). The restaurant has been used in other films as well.

 

Barone’s Famous Italian Restaurant
13726 Oxnard St, Los Angeles, CA 91401
818-782-6004
Open daily at 11:00am, lunch served Mon-Fri 11:00am-3:00pm, dinner Mon-Thu until 9:30pm, Fri-Sat until 11:30pm, Sun until 9:00pm
Live entertainment Friday and Saturday 8:30pm-12:30am

 

 

 

J. T. Basque, Gardnerville, Nevada

I’ve passed through the town of Gardnerville many times on US Highway 395, usually during autumn ‘leaf-peeping’ road trips. Usually I would stop at the Overland Hotel‘s bar for a Picon Punch. Recently it closed because the long-term owner retired and sold the business (though it is due to re-open in 2015). When I posted about its closure I vowed to check out the other Basque restaurant and bar in town, J. T. Basque, as soon as I could return to the area. Last month I made it, and I’m so glad I did!

 

1910 photo - image by J.T. Basque via sierranevadageotourism.org

1910 photo – image by J.T. Basque via sierranevadageotourism.org

 

The lovely building that houses J. T. Basque Bar and Dining Room was relocated from Virginia City, Nevada, in 1896. Since that time it has been a Basque sheepherders boarding house with a saloon, dining room, and barber shop.  In 1955 members of the Jaunsaras and Trounday families purchased the place, naming it J. T. Basque, after the first initials of their families’ names. In 1960 brothers Jean and Pete Lekumberry, immigrants from the French Basque area of the Pyrenees Mountains, took over the restaurant, keeping the name J. T. Basque.

 

Jean Lekumberry - photo by J T Basque via sierranevadageotourism.org

Jean Lekumberry – photo by J T Basque via sierranevadageotourism.org

 

For many years Jean was the bartender, his wife Shirley ran the restaurant and hotel, and Pete was cook. By all reports, Jean Lekumberry was a great host who made all visitors feel right at home…and he could really spin the yarns. He passed away in 1993, but a large photo of him hangs behind the bar as a friendly greeting to all patrons, locals and visitors alike, and his likeness is the restaurant’s logo (with his signature beret and cigar).

 

Jean serving patrons at J. T. Basque bar - photo by J T Basque via sierranevadageotourism.org

Jean serving patrons at J. T. Basque bar – photo by J T Basque via sierranevadageotourism.org

 

Today Jean and Shirley’s children, Robert, Marie Louise, and J.B., run the restaurant, with the same welcoming hospitality that their parents were known for. The Lekumberry family clearly cares for their historic treasure, having fully restored the building not long ago.

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The dining room and bar is decorated with many photographs and displays memorializing the restaurant’s history and the Basques in the area (as well as wonderful seasonal decorations by Marie Louise and a ceiling covered with dollar bills in the bar). The owners’ passion and dedication is also evident in the wonderful service by all the staff and the delicious food, much of it from local sources, such as the natural grass-fed beef from the Lekumberry’s own cattle ranch in Genoa, Nevada.

 

dining room - photo by The Jab, 2014

dining room – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

As at most of the Basque restaurants in California and Nevada, the menu at J. T. Basque includes a choice of several meat entrees and is served Basque family-style with several courses (though at lunch you can order from an ala carte menu, if desired). Main dishes offered during lunch and dinner are top sirloin steak, lamb shoulder steak, chicken, sweetbreads, pigs feet with tripe, and lamb chops. On Friday and Saturday dinner you can also get shrimp scampi or roasted rabbit. Before your main arrives you are served all the homemade soup you want from a tureen, bread, a green salad with homemade vinaigrette, beef stew, and ranch style beans. You also get a bottle of house red wine!

 

beef stew and beans - photo by The Jab, 2014

beef stew and beans – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

I was torn between the rabbit and the lamb chops, but when I heard at the bar (over a pre-dinner Picon Punch) that the lamb was from a nearby ranch that had excellent meats I decided to go with the chops. Roasted garlic cloves are offered as a topping, and I highly recommend getting them. You get French fries with your entrée, in crispy ‘shoestring’ size, the only way fries should be prepared in my opinion! Thick ‘steak’ fries? No, thank you!

 

French fries and lamb chops - photo by The Jab, 2014

French fries and lamb chops – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The lamb chops were amazing! So juicy and tender, on the bone with a good dark brown sear, and cooked just how I ordered them (medium rare).

 

lamb chops - photo by The Jab, 2014

lamb chops – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

After dinner you get ice cream and coffee. And you may want to return to the bar for another Picon Punch or two. On the night I went the crowd in the bar was jolly and friendly. Co-founder Shirley Lekumberry was there greeting old friends with her daughter Marie Louise, the restaurant’s hostess. I enjoyed chatting with Marie Louise about the history of the building and J. T. Basque. I can’t wait to return to try the rabbit or sweetbreads!

 

 

bighorn sheep in bar - photo by The Jab, 2014

bighorn sheep in bar – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

J. T. Basque
1426 Highway 395, Gardnerville NV 89410
(775) 782-2074
Open for lunch Mon-Sat 11:30am – 2:00pm, dinner Mon-Fri 5:00pm – 9:00pm, Sat 4:30pm – 9:00pm

 

 

Champany Inn, Linlithgow, Scotland

On a recent trip to Scotland (my second visit) I rented a car (first time driving on the left) and white-knuckled my way around Perthshire and the lower Highlands for a few days. My first stop (only 20 minutes from the rental agency at the Edinburgh airport) was the small town of Linlithgow for lunch. Perhaps you have never heard of Linlithgow before? Well, you may have heard of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was born in Linlithgow Palace in 1542 (the palace was built in the 15th century, rarely used after 1603, and gutted by fire in 1746. But the walls still stand).

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The Champany Inn consists of a 16-room inn, the main restaurant in a pyramid-shaped building, the bar, the Chop and Ale House in the long building, and a wine shop. Some of the buildings date back to the 16th century. The restaurant and inn are younger, having opened about 30 years ago, but they feel older than they are because of the classic country inn decor.

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The Champany Inn is a steakhouse tried-and-true. Co-owner Clive Davidson (he runs the restaurant with his wife Anne) selects Aberdeen Angus beef and ages the carcasses for three weeks before their in-house butcher hand-cuts the steaks. Mr. Davidson even designed his own charcoal grill, adding a smoker to smoke beef, salmon, and cod (all starters on the menu). Cuts offered on the menu include sirloin (aka strip loin or New York), ribeye, porterhouse, t-bone, bone-in fillet, Chateaubriand (for two), and prime rib (for two). As you can see by the menu below, there are other options besides steak.

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The Champany Inn offers a two-course set lunch Mon-Fri for £25.50 and a three-course set dinner Mon-Fri for £42.50. On my visit I opted for the set lunch, which I often seek out when traveling in Europe because most restaurants have it (in some countries, like Spain, they must offer it by law) so you can eat very well in fine restaurants for a fraction of the cost of dinner. However, I have some tips for doing so.

 

Le Continental’s Set Menu (Prix Fixe) Tips

 

  • Try to look up a sample set menu online to get an idea of the prices and options (or walk by the restaurant – most have the menu on display in front). Some restaurants offer a two-course set menu of starter and entrée OR entrée and dessert, while some offer a choice of either a two-course meal or a three-course meal.
  • Look at the dessert menu before you decide. Sometimes you may not be hungry after the entrée if it’s large (often the case in most restaurants in Spain and the UK), or the dessert offered isn’t that special (such as ice cream or sorbet). But if you are in Scotland and see sticky toffee pudding on the dessert menu, get it!
  • Only order the set meal if you really want the dishes offered. Look at the regular à la carte menu, and if something there looks like a must-try, such as a famous house specialty, don’t pass it up just to save a few dollars. Sometimes you can order a starter and an entrée, or just an entrée, for not much more than the set lunch and you may be happier you did when you leave. After all, you traveled a long way, you shouldn’t miss the opportunity. In the case of the Champany Inn, I was going to consider the set lunch only if a steak was offered as an entrée, because it’s a steakhouse (it was, so I ordered from the set lunch).

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

I was greeted by a gracious lady who I think was Anne Davidson, the co-owner, and seated at a nice table set with a lovely old-fashioned cooper plate, silverware, and linens. The service was superb throughout my luncheon. I was offered two house made breads, a darker bread with nuts and a white bread (both excellent).

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

For a starter I had the Champany salad of lettuce, chicken livers, and bacon, with a simple vinaigrette dressing. (For some reason I like chicken liver, but not beef liver.)

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

Of course, I had a steak for my main course. It was a sirloin on the bone, perfectly done, and served with the best, crispy French fries (oh, sorry, chips in the UK), a mushroom cap, and very fresh cherry tomatoes. Usually horseradish is offered with beef in the UK, and I love it with beef (preferably not creamed style).

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

If you are ever in Scotland, Edinburgh is a must-visit city, and if you go there you should take a train or a taxi out to the Champany Inn for the best steak in Scotland. Actually, I found the restaurant by searching online for “best Aberdeen steak in Scotland”!

 

Champany Inn
Linlithgow, UK EH49 7LU,
United Kingdom

Phone: +44 1506 834532
Restaurant open Mon-Fri, lunch 12:30pm-2:00pm, dinner 7:00pm-10:00pm, Sat dinner 7:00pm-10:00pm, closed Sunday, reservations required
Chop & Ale House open Mon-Thu, lunch 12:00pm-2:00pm, dinner 6:30pm-10:00pm, Fri-Sat 12:00pm-10:00pm, Sun 12:30pm-10:00pm, no reservations accepted

 

La Dolce Vita, Beverly Hills, California

I first heard about this hidden gem of a restaurant on the defunct web site latimemachines.com by a man named Jonathan M., who I never had the pleasure of meeting, but I felt a kinship with him through our shared love for time-travel restaurants. Sadly, he closed his website a few years ago and I don’t know what became of him. I was able to print many of the pages from his site before it went down, which grew very extensive in its last years of 2009-2011. He championed La Dolce Vita as one of the Top 10 Time Machine Restaurants in Los Angeles. Perhaps it was even #1 on his list (though I seem to recall that Musso and Frank Grill had that well-deserved spot). Anyway, I finally was able to visit La Dolce Vita recently with friends and now I know what Jonathan was raving about. Even after a minor remodel in 2013 and without long-time maître d’ Ruben Castro, who retired the same year, it was a wonderful dining experience, so now it is one of my favorite overall restaurants in California.

 

photo by The Jab, 2014

photo by The Jab, 2014

 

Near the busy intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards, La Dolce Vita was opened in 1966 by two waiters from Patsy D’Amore’s Villa Capri, Jimmy Ullo and George Smith. The legend goes that Frank Sinatra and actor George Raft helped fund the restaurant. You will hear many restaurants claim that Sinatra was a regular, but at La Dolce Vita it’s a fact. It was his main hangout until his death. He liked to sit at table #2, a small table for two near the bar with a view of the front door and the entire restaurant (table #15 was his regular booth for entertaining, and is now marked with a brass plaque with his name). Other regulars included Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Gregory Peck, Don Rickles, Anthony Quinn, and every President (today, photos and brass plaques honor its previous celebrity clientele)..

 

La Dolce Vita bar - photo by The Jab, 2014

La Dolce Vita bar – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

In the 1980s, Ruben Castro was hired as a waiter. His local resume was impressive, having worked at Sunset Strip landmarks Frascati’s, Estephanino’s, La Rue, Nicky Blair’s, and The Saloon in Beverly Hills, since emigrating from Mexico in 1966, the same year La Dolce Vita opened. He moved to captain, then maître d‘, until his retirement in 2013.

 

dining room - photo by The Jab, 2014

dining room – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

In 2000 Ullo and Smith sold the restaurant and it started to go somewhat downhill, no longer attracting local diners. The great-great-grandson of Henry Ford, Alessandro Uzielli, an AFI-graduate who works for Ford Motor Company in movie product placement, as well as being a movie producer (Bongwater), purchased La Dolce Vita in 2003 to try to save a fading Hollywood landmark. After a slow start people started to show up again, including Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Don Knotts, Bob Newhart, and Tony Martin. Today’s regulars include Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Lorne Michaels, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Steve Martin, and Penélope Cruz.

 

dining room - photo by The Jab, 2014

dining room – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

In 2013 the restaurant closed for a week for a refurbishment. Not much was changed that I can see from photos taken before the remodel. The original brick walls (which are actually fake), tufted booths, gilt-framed and paned mirrors (which make the place look larger than it is), decorative metal wall dividers, and lamps from the 1960s remain. The only change that is obvious is an acoustic tile ceiling was replaced with a more attractive ceiling (a change for the better). A slight disappointment on my recent visit was the original brass-tacked bar stools (in pic below) have been replaced for some reason with contemporary high-backed bar “chairs” that didn’t look right (strangely, the old ones were still present in the pics on this post-remodel article), though I loved the diamond tufted bar front in gold.

 

photo by la-confidential-magazine.com

bar with old bar stools – photo by la-confidential-magazine.com

 

The restaurant has no windows, which makes for a nice dark and romantic atmosphere, just how Le Continental likes it. Classic songs by Sinatra, Dino, and other legendary vocalists plays at a soft volume.

 

dining room - photo by The Jab, 2014

dining room – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

Also in 2013, the menu was revised, but most of the restaurant’s dishes are Italian classics (such as chicken and veal scaloppini and steak Florentine), and their famous dishes, such as steak Sinatra (a prime filet mignon with red peppers and a chianti demi glace) and veal meatballs with spaghetti, remain on the menu. All of their pastas are made in house. I had a starter of arancini, followed by a Caesar salad, and steak Sinatra. Everything was excellent and the service was top-notch.

 

steak Sinatra - photo by The Jab, 2014

steak Sinatra – photo by The Jab, 2014

 

The next time you’re in the Los Angeles area you owe it to yourself to make a reservation to dine in style at La Dolce Vita. Wear a suit. Dino would have.

 

La Dolce Vita
9785 Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 278-1845
Open Sun-Thu 5:00pm-10:00pm, Fri-Sat 5:00pm-11:00pm

On Le Continental’s 3-Year Anniversary

Champany Inn - photo by The Jab

Champany Inn, Scotland – photo by The Jab

 

I apologize for the lack of posts in the last month or so. In September I switched web hosts, which hopefully will provide better performance. Also, I was on a two-week vacation in Scotland and Ireland. I will be posting soon about some great classic restaurants I visited on my trip, such as the marvelous Champany Inn outside of Edinburgh (in photo above).

Looking back on the last year or two, sadly we’ve lost a lot of great old restaurants. Particularly hard-hitting personally was the closure of Bella Vista, The Bahooka, and Trader Dick’s. However, some closures thankfully were only temporary, such as the Big 4. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the resurrection of Joe’s of Westlake, and worried about the uncertain future of favorites like La Casa Rosa, which is up for sale, and Sam’s Grill in San Francisco, which closed for renovations in July and still hasn’t reopened (apparently it changed ownership).

But this blog’s primary aim isn’t to mourn lost restaurants; it’s to celebrate existing ones that take you back in time while also providing good (oftentimes great) food and service. If the food isn’t good or the service lacking I won’t put the restaurant on this site. The good news is just because a restaurant is old doesn’t mean the food has to be bland or mediocre. In fact, I find that most classic restaurants have survived so long because of great, often unique, dishes and excellent service in a relaxing old-fashioned atmosphere. Recently I finally dined at La Dolce Vita in Beverly Hills, which has been on my to-do list for years, since I first read about it in the defunct web site latimemachines.com. Everything about it was outstanding (I will be posting soon about this gem).

Thank you, dear readers, for following Le Continental. We have many more restaurants to visit and I look forward to sharing my finds and adventures in dining with you in the next year.

The Jab